Washing off the Dust

Life is hard. The path is never easy and our journeys are so often full of obstacles along the path. There is an overabundance of things to keep track of and far too many reasons to be anxious and afraid. We all need ways to stay calm and keep moving forward. We need ways to express our uniqueness and ways to divert the stress that inevitably builds up along the way.

Making art is one of the best ways I know to calm the mind and lift the heart. Thomas Merton said it best when he said, “The Purpose of Art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

The weather has begun to get cold and crisp and, once again, I am in awe of the colors outside my window. I have a craving to participate in the beauty around me. I can relate to Robert Henri when he said, “The object isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.” Fall beauty puts me there. I find joy in playing with color even if it does not live up to the images outside the glass door. In fact, there are so many positive things that happen in the process of making art, many of which I witnessed in the acrylic painting classes I taught this spring at the FMCHopefully, it is just the beginning of many such art adventures. 

Starting in February, each month I set up a simple painting in the fellowship hall for a multi-aged group of adults who gathered, talked and laughed while I led them through a step-by-step process to complete their own paintings. The group, some from the church, some invited by members in the class, congratulated each other on their successes and encouraged those who felt uncertain. It was an atmosphere of positivity and, at times, pure childlike joy and wonder. I heard one woman proclaim in delight, “This is so much fun; I had no idea how much I would enjoy this!” Others talked about how relaxing it was as the room was enveloped in silent concentration. One person said the class was a reminder to her of how important it is to take a few hours out of her schedule to make art. Art is a wonderful source of self-expression. “Art is coming face to face with ourselves,” according to Jackson Pollock. Louise Bourgeois said, “Art is a way of recognizing ourselves.” In my own life, art helped me find myself. It gave me a feeling of pride and a sense of identity when I was in high school and in college. This is why I am very excited about possibly starting classes for kids some time this year. I am preparing to lead a paint party for an 11-year-old girl’s birthday. I hope it is the first of many!

In encouraging me to do the spring class, a friend said that painting “lifts the soul” and I agree. Art can be a spiritual experience that is difficult to express in words. Many people, like myself, use art to transcend their circumstances, to heal and relieve anxiety. Art can take us to a place of “flow,” a term used to explain the phenomenon where a person becomes so involved in what they are doing they become unaware of the passage of time. It’s a lot like meditation.

 In the spring classes, there was definitely a “flow,” as evidenced by the artists’ surprise when they realized our two hours had quickly passed. Each month, class was always over too soon, but people seemed to enjoy their finished art and expressed an eagerness to do more. After all, “The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before,” noted Neil Gaiman.

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About the author

Laurel Gerbrandt

I am an artist and I enjoy writing and photography. I love concerts and live music of all kinds. Reading is also a favorite pastime—especially in fall and winter. In the spring you will find me in the garden, where I enjoy planting a large flower and vegetable garden each year. I love to do all kinds of art and especially love teaching children and other curious people to enjoy it as well!

My husband, Ron and I live in McCordsville. We have two grown sons, Samuel and Noah, who bless us with good company from time to time.

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